Okay, I know this never works, but I can always hope, can’t I? I love football and if the XFL works it means I can go straight from the NFL to the XFL, and then a little over a month later the CFL season starts. With the backing of Vince McMahon and a guy with the reputation of Oliver Luck running the league, this may be the last best chance to pull it off.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the upcoming season and who we think will be the best teams and players.
1) Tampa Bay Vipers
This should be one of the most exciting and innovative teams in the XFL.
The Vipers hired what could very well be the best Head Coach in the XFL in Marc Trestman, a guy who bounced around NFL organizations from 1985 to 2006 before finding his place with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. He immediately won Coach of the Year and two Grey Cup titles, leading all-time passing leader Anthony Calvillo to two of his biggest seasons.
He was quickly grabbed by the Chicago Bears where he struggled over the course of two seasons. Following his departure from Chicago, he went back to the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts. He won another Grey Cup and his style of coaching in more geared towards the CFL style than it is the NFL, which is why I think he will fit in with the Vipers.
The Vipers quarterback will be former Georgia Bulldog Aaron Murray who’s completion percentage was north of 64% in his final two years against SEC defenses and he was one of the highest touted QBs in his draft year due to his arm talent, accuracy and pocket awareness.
The style of play for Murray is very similar to that of Trevor Harris, Ricky Ray, and Anthony Calvillo–the three quarterbacks Trestman broke records and won championships with in Canada.
With Antonio Callaway, Reece Horn and Senatavius Jones, the Vipers have a deadly trio of wideouts and will probably have the number one offense in the XFL. On defense they will not be very good, but that makes for the most exciting team in the XFL and a team that very well could score enough points to take the first XFL title.
2) D.C. Defenders
At 45 years old, Pep Hamilton is the youngest head coach in the XFL. Pep will not be a household name. He has bounced back and forth from the college to pro-level since 1997 but made his big claim to fame in 2011-2012 developing Andrew Luck into the top draft pick in the NFL.
Many describe Luck as the protégé of Hamilton and the connection between the two was the deciding factor in the move from Stanford to Indianapolis in 2013 where Hamilton was the Offensive Coordinator for three seasons. Hamilton will be a young, energetic Head Coach and should make the Defenders challengers for the title.
The quarterback will be a huge question as Cardale Jones looks to be the starting. That could be a little scary, but remember this is not the NFL and Jones’ athleticism could be a game-breaker at a lower level like this.
Jones has incredible size, arm strength and has terrific placement on his deep ball. Behind him are Jhurrell Pressley and Donnel Pumphrey. Pumphrey leads all XFL skill players in yards from scrimmage at the college level. Pressley could very well be the most dynamic offensive player in this league due to his explosiveness.
3) New York Guardians
I do not know why the team that is in a huge market would hire Kevin Gilbride as the Head Coach.
Gilbride started coaching in the NFL in 1995 and served with multiple teams, most notably winning two Super Bowls as offensive coordinator with the New York Giants. After starting the 2013 season 0-6, John Mara made the comment that the Giants offense is “broken”.
Gilbride’s offense in the NFL eventually grew stale and this seems like more of an NFL hire, you know hiring out of nepotism or a retread! Gilbride’s career has stood dormant for seven years and I do not see how a lack of innovation that long ago can be fixed in a new league that will be looking for all the innovation it can find.
Matt McGloin is in place to be the opening day starting quarterback for the Guardians. In 33 games for Penn State, McGloin passed for over 6,300 yards but went undrafted in the NFL. McGloin is a solid quarterback and he will have multiple weapons alongside him with DeAngelo Yancey, Mekale McCay, and Tanner Gentry.
4) St. Louis BattleHawks
A lot of questions exist with the BattleHawks, especially when it comes to coaching. Jonathan Hayes and Chuck Long are two names that will be unknown to many fans and may well be known for their time on the football field rather than the sidelines, for those familiar. Jonathan Hayes played eleven seasons in the NFL and was an early second-round draft pick in 1985. At the time of graduation from Iowa, Chuck Long broke every passing record at Iowa and held the best completion percentage for any QB in NCAA that attempted more than 1,000 passes. That does not mean that they are bad picks to coach a team, it just means we don’t know a whole lot about them, and that might be a good thing.
All signs point to Jordan Ta’amu earning the opening day starter role at quarterback. Ta’amu finished the 2018 NCAA season with Ole Miss ranked second in the SEC for passing yards behind Tua Tagovailoa. Coach Long is a huge proponent of the Air Raid offense and this seems to be a good fit for the quarterback in this case.
The Air Raid system may actually be the best fit for this league early on because you don’t have to have road grader offensive lineman to win and the timing could be an issue, but a solid backfield for St. Louis could help this team along early on. The BattleHawks talent-wise have a high ceiling.
1) Dallas Renegades
Head Coach and quarterback are huge in a start-up league and Dallas will have a great coach in Bob Stoops and a solid leader with a fair amount of NFL experience in Landry Jones. I know Jones was a bust in the NFL but this is not the NFL and I expect he will be one of the better starters here.
Stoops has a history of coaching up players and very well could be the kind of coach that can dominate this league with an imaginative, wide-open offense. The Renegades could get off to a somewhat slow start though considering Landry Jones missed a lot of practice time early on due to an injury, but by mid-season the Renegades could be very difficult to deal with.
At the skill positions, Dallas seems to be loaded also with the likes of Jazz Ferguson, who often has been the highest touted player out of training camp. The six-foot-five receiver runs a 4.40 40-yard dash and is a nightmare to match up against at 230 pounds. Former Oklahoma wide receiver Jeff Badet was the top pick in the XFL draft for Dallas and the familiarity with the Sooners offense will give him a clear advantage.
The running game seems to be in good hands also with former NFL running backs Cam Artis-Payne, who played four seasons for the Carolina Panthers, and Lance Dunbar behind him. Dunbar featured in 58 NFL games as primarily a third-down receiving back. Dallas should be a fun team to watch, we will just need to see if Landry Jones can stay healthy.
2) Los Angeles Wildcats
Head Coach Winston Moss has a ton of experience coaching at the highest level. He was an Assistant Head Coach and Linebackers Coach with the Green Bay Packers from 2006-2018 before Mike McCarthy was let go. In addition to the Super Bowl ring he won with the team, he also adds another nine years of coaching in the NFL to his resume with the Seahawks and Saints. Prior to coaching, Moss played an eleven-season run in the NFL as a linebacker. What Moss is missing is head coaching experience and play-calling experience which could lead to issues right out of the gate.
Norm Chow will direct the play-calling and the only real question with the 73-year-old Chow comes with the fact that he has not coached at a high level the last 5 years or so. But, make no mistake, he is one of the best offensive minds anywhere in football.
Josh Johnson looks to be the starting quarterback and the 33-year-old QB is the oldest in the league but without question the most experienced. Johnson played in more than 30 NFL games and threw for 1,700 yards at the pro level. Johnson ran for more than 1,800 yards and 6.1 yards per carry in college, but those active legs appear to be well behind him. The NFL still thinks Johnson can play as the Detroit Lions had an interest in him late in the season but the XFL blocked them from signing him. The combination of Chow and Johnson could make this a very dangerous team to contend with. Injuries though make it look likely that Johnson may not play in week 1.
The Wildcats may be more of a run-oriented team with a couple of intriguing running backs in Elijah Hood, who at just 23 years old is the youngest running back in the league. Behind Hood is Larry Rose III, a fella who ran for nearly 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns during his time at New Mexico State. No running back in the league has more collegiate receiving yards than Rose, which certainly gives options to Chow utilizing multiple backs in formations.
The wide receiver position seems to be a weakness for the Wildcats and that weakness may be too much to overcome for them.
3) Houston Roughnecks
A master of the run-and-shoot offense, new Head Coach June Jones is ready to see if it will work in the XFL. The problem with the run and shoot is that it operates out of one or two formations with four or five wide receivers and puts the onus of reading coverage on receivers to set up easy reads and throws for the QB. This system under Jones saw Colt Brennan throw for an NCAA record 58 touchdowns in 2006 at the University of Hawaii, but this in not Hawaii.
There is an interesting quote from Jones I found upon taking over in Hamilton of the CFL. Jones said that “The system is better up here [Canada] because of the personnel limitations teams face with all of the size and skill going to the NFL.”
The main issue with the run-and-shoot is how easy it is for opposing defenses with speed to defend. The XFL faces similar limitations in terms of personnel. Plus with the reading that needs to be done not just by the quarterbacks but the receivers also can they get on the same page quickly enough to make this work?
Quarterback P.J. Walker has the potential to shock a lot of people in this league.
4) Seattle Dragons
Jim Zorn is the Head Coach, which does not give me a ton of confidence, but Mike Reilly as the offensive coordinator gives this team a coach that is experienced in these types of situations since he was a Head Coach in the Alliance league last year. The Dragons should have the best attendance in the league and maybe that will help the team win a few close games.
The quarterback will be a tough situation for Seattle as well with B.J. Daniels in line for the starting quarterback position possibly. Daniels had a solid career as a starter in college, throwing for more than 8,000 yards and running for another 2,000 in four seasons with South Florida. However, pro scouts never took to his game. Do not be surprised if the game one starter is Brandon Silvers who played in the Alliance league last year for Memphis and then spent a month with the Jets. Either way, this will probably not be a position of strength for the Dragons.
The most notable skill player is Keenan Reynolds. If you watch the Army/Navy game every year you will be familiar with Reynolds as the all-time NCAA Division I touchdown leader with 88 for Navy. The problem is Reynolds was a quarterback and not a receiver while playing for Navy and never caught a pass in college.
Seattle has the worst roster in the league but they have sold the most tickets and maybe home-field gets them a few wins.
Tampa 34, Dallas 27
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